Collection No. 61: The Cozeners, by Samuel Foote

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Foote, Samuel
Author dates: 1720 - 1777
Title: The Cozeners

First played: 1774
First published: 1778, by T. Sherlock, for T. Cadell.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1778):

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996):

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Nationality; Contemporary Satire

Character types: Irish; Jewish; Country; Indian; Business / Trades

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Fleece'em and Flaw act as professional facilitators, but are really out to scam their clients. The Aircastles' son Toby nearly marries an Indian servant, thinking she is an heiress. Mrs. Aircastle's affair with Colonel Gorget is neatly concealed from her husband. Fleece'em and Flaw are apprehended.

Prologue by Garrick.

Act I.
Mrs. Fleece’em and Flaw conspire. Mrs. Fleece’em was banished from England for stealing lace; she participated in the Boston Tea-Party; and now lives in Pall-Mall, in London. She plans to be a professional facilitator of courtly appointments, marriages and divorces, etc. Flaw, a lawyer, will advise her as to how far she may go within the law, and will be rewarded 30% of her profit. Mr. O’Flannagan, an Irish client, requests to see Mr. Flaw. Mrs. Fleece’em recommends he emigrate to the Falkland Islands, or to America, where she can secure him a place. O’Flannagan is instructed in the manners and dress of American (‘tar and feathers’), and departs, leaving a fifty-pound note for Mrs. Fleece’em’s services. Mr. Moses Manasses, a Jew,  arrives. He wishes to get into one of the select clubs in London from which he has been blackballed because of his religion. He pays then departs. Mrs. Simony, a doctor’s wife and a notorious gossip, enters. She sings the praises of the Doctor (actually a priest), and leaves Mrs. Fleece’em with a promise to pay £100 if Mrs. Fleece’em can secure a living for him. Mrs. Fleece’em departs to pay a visit to a mercer.

Act II.
Flaw converses with Tom, a waiter, who is living below the Aircastles, a country squire and his wife who have recently arrived in town with their son Toby. Miss Betsy Blossom avoids the Aircastles, but maintains an acquaintance with their son. Flaw exits, and Tom and Betsy arrange for Betsy to convince her former lover Toby Aircastle to marry her, making use of her acting skills. The Aircastles converse. Mrs. Aircastle wishes to rise in the world:

What! have you no ambition? no soul? could you be easy to stand stock-still, whilst your neighbours are advancing all round you? Cottagers are become farmers; farmers are made justices; and folks that travelled barefoot to London, roll down again in their coaches and chariots; but still we stick! (page 34).

They write an advertisement to attract prospective brides to their son Toby. Flaw enters and assesses the boy, then suggests he meet a rich acquaintance’s niece. The aunt is Fleece’em, and she is supposed to have arrived from the Indies. The family quickly agrees that Fleece’em’s niece is a suitable lover for Toby, regardless of having never met her. We come upon Colonel Gorget, who is reading a letter from his secret lover Mrs. Aircastle: she requests he “accommodate” her with £500. Aircastle meets him, but Gorget conceals the identity of the lady. Gorget persuades Aircastle to loan him the £500. Aircastle leaves, still speculating on the lady’s identity. Mrs Aircastle enters; Gorget tries to get her to confess love for him then gives her the £500 and a receipt. Toby enters at the wrong moment. After Mrs. Aircastle leaves, Toby laments his lost love, Betsy Blossom, who appears at that moment, to his shock. Betsy pretends to faint. Toby cries for help, and Tom enters; he chastises Toby for his supposed cruelty to Betsy. Toby is sent for help, and Betsy and Tom kiss.

Act III.
Mrs. Fleece’em arrives at Doctor Hellebore’s with Paul Prig, a mercer, having told Prig that Hellebore is a lawyer. Fleece’em wants to take Prig’s cloth and put him out of the way of the main action by incarcerating him in a madhouse. Fleece’em pretends to Doctor Hellebore that Prig is her mad uncle. Fleece’em leaves Prig with Hellebore; the latter examines Prig then prescribes him a draught. The protesting Prig is restrained by three keepers. The Aircastles are introduced to Mrs. Fleece’em by Flaw. Mrs. Fleece’em’s ‘niece’ is said to be indisposed, but Mrs. Fleece’em assures the Aircastles that the engagement is to take place. Toby’s complexion is changed to suit the tastes of the girl, who is supposed to have recently come from India. The Aircastles pay Flaw and Mrs. Fleece’em, and Toby is left to visit with the girl. Marianne, the girl, proves to be an Indian slave, and the shocked Toby runs away. Flaw hastens to cash in the Aircastles’ deposit before he and Fleece’em are caught. Mrs. Aircastle arrives and speaks with Fleece’em, believing Toby to have committed a faux pas. Colonel Gorget enters, looking for Flaw, whom he accuses of tricking a soldier out of his money. Flaw sends a note to Fleece’em revealing that “the game is up”; she flees. Mr. Aircastle’s loan to Colonel Gorget (and his subsequent loan to Mrs. Aircastle) is revealed, but Mrs. Aircastle’s infidelity is hidden from Mr. Aircastle. They discover that there is no ‘niece’. Mrs. Fleece’em returns, having been caught by an angry O’Flannagan who demands a refund. Mrs. Simony returns, asking for the note back. Prig enters, dressed as a madman. Roger, a servant, enters, saying that he has just prevented Toby’s marriage to Betsy Blossom. O’Flannagan is relieved to hear that his payment can be stopped, and Gorget will be able to get the Aircastles’ money back from Flaw. Gorget arrests Fleece’em, who concludes:
But, gentlemen, if all who have offended like us, were like us produced to the public, much higher names would adorn the Old-Bailey Chronicle than those of poor Fleece'em and Flaw! (page 94).

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Secondary commentary

A) Howard, Douglas. ‘Samuel Foote: January, 1721-October 21, 1777.’ Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 26 May 2008.

"Retreating from the generally sentimental subjects he had parodied in recent works, Foote wrote The Cozeners, a satiric play that allowed him to mimic a whole range of knaves and gulls. The plot involves the exploits of Flaw, a lawyer, and Mrs. Fleece'em, a thief recently returned from exile in America. Their clients, whom they dupe with various schemes of procurement, include an Irishman, a Jew, a preacher's wife, and a country family with a doltish son. The play is full of references to contemporary scandal, and it satirizes a variety of individuals, from Lord Chesterfield to the well-known adventuress Caroline Rudd."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

The dialects of many of Mrs. Fleece’em’s clients differentiate them and stereotype their characters; each represents a different group attempting to move upward in society (the Irish, the Jews, the country folk). The stereotyping renders each group laughable to the play’s audience, but the significance is clear:  the manipulated dialect speakers are honest, while the dishonest Fleece’em and Flaw speak in standard English.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: O’Flannagan’s dialect (an Irishman)
a. Sample of dialect

[page 10]
Prodigious! upon my soul, madam, in a hundred miles riding, I did not meet with a human cratur, except sheep and oxen, to tell me the road; and I should have lost myself again and again, but for the mile-stones, that are so kind to answer your questions without giving you the trouble to ask them: And so, being desirous to follow my neighbours' example, I have, madam, made bold to come over before them.

[page 12]
O' Flan.
Oh! what, I suppose, a kind of linen, like that at Belfast, that the natives malefactor themselves.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: malapropism: “malefactor” for “manufacture”
c. Nationality: Irish
d. Character profile: an Irishmen, whom Fleece'em and Flaw try to send to America
e. Consistency of representation: just this one error

Variety: Moses Manasses’ dialect (a Jew)
a. Sample of dialect

[page 14]
Madam, you vas exceeding polite, indeed: I always finds de ladies very partial to me; I vas have de honour to be chose last veek maister of de ceremony to de Mile-End assembly; and Mrs. Alderman herself make alvays choice of me for de cotilions.

b.1 Orthography: "you vas"; "de ladies"; "veek"; "alvays"
b.2 Grammar: "I vas have de honour to be chose"; "make alvays choice of me"
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English (Jewish)
d. Character profile: wants to get into men's clubs in London; he has been blackballed because of his religion
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Toby’s speech (the son of a country squire)
a. Sample of dialect:
I don't understand what father and mother's about. Here am I dizened, and skewered, and graced, just like a young colt that is a-breaking: Nay, they were going to advertise me too, as if I was really a horse; but lawyer Flaw has made them alter their minds, and I am to be disposed of by private contract, I think. I can't say that I am over-fond of their ways. Oh, poor Betsy Blossom! let them match me to whoever they will, I shall never love any like thee: I believe I should have put an end to their project, if I could but have found---Hey! who

[page 52 ]

is this? Mercy on me! sure it must be her ghost! and yet that can't be; because ghosts, they say, never comes but at night. Betsy?

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “father and mother’s about”; “a-breaking”; “thee” for Betsy; “ghosts…never comes”
b.3 Vocabulary: interjections (“Hey!” “Mercy on me!” etc), country words (“colt”, “horse”)
c. Nationality: English (country)
d. Character profile: a doltish son of a country squire
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Marianne (Indian)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 79]
Who be dat dere?
I.--- Dat dere ? one may find out by her tongue she is a foreigner: I am pretty right now, I believe. What, Miss, are you sick?

[page 81]
Massa, won't you come here?
Not I.
I come to you, den.
The devil you will! you must run pretty fast then.---Keep off me! holloa! house! stop the black thing that is hard at my---

Enter Mrs. Fleece'em.
Mrs. Fl.
The rude puppy had like to have run over me: What is the meaning---Ha, the curtain drawn up? nay then---Marianne, who opened the window?
[page 82 ]
Little Massa, to shew me de tick-tick---

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “who  be”
b.3 Vocabulary: “dat dere”, “iss” (repeated), “tick-tick”, “Massa”
c. Nationality: supposedly a Nabob heiress, but really an Indian slave
d. Character profile: Marianne’s idiocy is represented in her repetition of “Iss” and her simple dialect
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Prig (a mercer)
a. Sample of dialect
Prig. I consider it, madam, as one of the most greatestest pieces of happiness that could have befallen Paul Prig. Your la'ship is a perfect pattern of humility: To suffer a simple tradesman like me to occupy part of your la'ship's coach, is such an honour that---

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “most greatestest” (super-superlative!)
b.3 Vocabulary: Latinate language
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: an up-and-coming mercer taken to a mental hospital
e. Consistency of representation: this instance only

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

Mrs. Aircastle's education:

[page 36]

Mrs. Air.
Here the advertisement is; I have penned it myself.
You penned it? Damn me, if she can spell a single syllable of the language!

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Other points of interest


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©2008 Arden Hegele